State of the Leaf: Support Up in Florida and Pennsylvania, Moderate in Massachusetts
New this week: A national poll found major support for medical cannabis in Florida and increasing support for recreational in Pennsylvania, while the reception in Massachusetts seems more lukewarm than ever. Ohio’s chances for a medical marijuana amendment are holding strong with support from the House, and Rhode Island may double its number of dispensaries. On the international front, the Global Cannabis Campaign saw traction in Colombia and South Africa, while Canada’s cracking down and Australia introduced medical legislation.
U.S. News Updates
The Alaska Marijuana Board is preparing to issue licenses to cannabis businesses and many community councils are hearing from prospective business owners during council discussions with the public. After receiving applications and hearing testimony from community members and neighbors, the councils will provide feedback to the Marijuana Control Board and send letters to residents informing them of the changes. None of the licenses have been issued so far, and Bruce Schulte, chairman of the Marijuana Control Board, says he doesn't expect to begin issuing licenses until June. Retail stores are projected to open this fall.
Florida is gearing up for another medical marijuana showdown this November, but supporters are nervous about their chances. John Morgan, an Orlando attorney and one of Florida’s top political fundraisers, has funneled $6.8 million into efforts to legalize medical cannabis since 2013, but he anticipates 2016 could be a “tipping point” for the state. The latest poll numbers from Quinnipiac University show that 80 percent of Florida respondents support medical marijuana and plan to vote in favor of the upcoming measure in November.
A new report from the Massachusetts Health Department shows the sluggish and long-suffering medical marijuana program earned only $320,610 during fiscal year 2016. That was difference between the $3.3 million in revenue and the $2.98 million that was spent to implement the program. It reflects the growing pains and hurdles the program has faced during the years since medical marijuana was legalized in 2012. The program took more than three years to be fully implemented, and lawsuits were rampant during the process due to inconsistent rules and contradictory guidelines. The pittance of revenue this year doesn't bode well for the upcoming push for legalization, which already faces tough opposition from Gov. Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, and Attorney General Maura Healey.
The proposed constitutional amendment to legalize medical cannabis passed through the House with flying colors. House Bill 523 earned a 70–25 vote of support after hours of testimony from prospective patients ranging from children who suffer from uncontrollable seizures to a veteran whose post-traumatic stress disorder has been helped by the use of cannabis. The bill would allow the limited use of cannabis for those who suffer from among 20 qualifying medical conditions. It would not allow smoking cannabis or home growing, and it would set up a nine-member commission to enact regulations and allocate dispensaries and cultivation facilities. The bill now heads to the Senate for a vote.
A new poll out of Quinnipiac University shows a major jump in support for adult-use legalization in Pennsylvania. The survey found that between 2015 and 2016, support for legalization rose from 47 percent to 57 percent. The last poll was conducted in October 2015 and showed voters split on the topic. However, since then, Pennsylvania became the 24th state to legalize medical marijuana, which likely played a factor in the growing movement of support for cannabis in the Keystone State.
The Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee is considering a number of cannabis bills. Up for consideration are measures around regulation, taxation, law enforcement, and the issue of driving under the influence. Law enforcement officers in Rhode Island are currently trained to detect cannabis impairment, but the legislation is considering a test for levels of THC in the system, although recent research shows the blood tests are not effective or scientifically accurate.
In the House of Representatives, lawmakers introduced H. 7808, which would increase the number of medical marijuana dispensaries, known as compassion centers, from three to six statewide.
International News Updates
Minister Cameron Dick just introduced legislation to legalize the medicinal use of cannabis in Queensland. The Public Health (Medicinal Cannabis) Bill 2016 will not legalize recreational cannabis use or home cultivation, but it will create a legal path for the lawful production of medical marijuana for qualified patients. The move to introduce the bill was spurred into action after the death of a child who was given cannabis oil treatments illegally to combat cancer. Adam Koessler, father of Rumer Rose, was fined and put on a two-year good behavior bond in Brisbane after pleading guilty to supplying his daughter with the oil. Rumer died this week just days before her fourth birthday, inspiring the official announcement from the Queensland government.
City inspectors in Vancouver initiated a crackdown on medical cannabis storefronts operating without a license. The Vancouver City Council began the regulation process for cannabis businesses last year, issuing business licenses at the cost of $1,000 for compassion clubs and $30,000 for medical dispensaries. However, the regulations required stores to comply with certain criteria, including operating only in commercial zones at least 300 meters from schools, neighborhood homes, community centers, and other cannabis businesses. At least 140 dispensaries didn’t make the cut and were warned that they had six months to comply or face fines. A major cause for concern is that the board of variance has a backlog, so many dispensary owners who are still in the midst of the appeal process are being forced to shut their doors.
The laws related to cannabis use and possession are fairly lax in Colombia, but that didn’t stop protesters from marching in the streets of Bogota and Medellin to call for the legalization of cannabis on a worldwide scale. The Global Marijuana March encouraged marches around the world, although Colombia’s protest had a specifically funky, fruity twist. Many protesters were seen smoking homemade devices carved from various fruits, such as apples, papayas, pineapples, and even watermelons.
Thousands of pro-cannabis protesters marched on Cape Town to demand the government ease drug laws and allow the medical and recreational use of dagga, as cannabis is known in South Africa. As many as 3,000 protesters took part in the procession, which is part of a larger orchestration of marches around the world through the Global Cannabis Campaign. South African opposition lawmaker Mario Oriani-Ambrosini submitted draft legislation calling for the legalization of cannabis in 2014, but it died before moving forward.